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Wallingford considers options for thinning deer population

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WALLINGFORD — Although the Conservation Commission recently stressed the town is years away from any controlled hunting to reduce the deer population at the Tyler Mill preserve, other municipalities in the state report positive results from similar hunts.

While other forms of wildlife and plants have declined over the years at the 1,000-acre town-owned property, the population of deer continues to grow, according to the Conservation Commission. The state Department of Environmental and Energy Protection conducted an aerial study of the property in 2009, which revealed nearly 40 deer per square mile.

Tyler Mill is considered a multi-use property and small-game hunting is allowed during the appropriate season. At a meeting last month, Howard Kilpatrick of DEEP told the Conservation Commission that typically removing deer from a property occurs during the regular hunting season, but another option is a controlled hunt.

A controlled hunt is restricted to a certain part of property and can take place outside of hunting season. In the past, the town explored the idea for a deer hunt at Tyler Mill, but Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. said he wanted more evidence before moving forward.

In an interview this week, Dickinson said he wanted to see more concrete evidence that the deer were to blame for the damage to the flora at Tyler Mill.

“What impact are the deer having — is there elimination of understory, as far as damage of that kind? Are we seeing malnourished, diseased deer because there’s not enough food for them? What is the size of the herd compared to the available food and acreage?” Dickinson asked. “There needs to be some quantification of these things, with an actual inquiry rather than a guess.”

Conservation Commission Chairwoman Mary Heffernon couldn’t be reached for comment, but at a meeting earlier this month she emphasized the town is still investigating the situation.

While Wallingford continues to collect data, other municipalities have had success with controlled hunts. Wilton, for example, has conducted a controlled hunt of deer for the past 11 years, according to Patricia Sesto, Wilton’s environmental affairs director. Wilton is one of 18 members of the Fairfield County Deer Management Alliance.

Wilton holds the controlled hunts on a 750-acre watershed, Sesto said, which has resulted in a smaller deer population.

“We did it for the very same reasons that Wallingford has observed,” Sesto said. “The understory is missing and it’s really quite sad to know when you stand in the woods and see (that). It gave us pause when we saw that.”

Wilton has organized controlled hunts on the reservoir land for the “longest continuous stretch,” Sesto said. While there have been improvements with the deer population, she stressed that it took at least five years before any changes were observed and vegetation in the area started to return.

When asked if residents had concerns about increased hunting, Sesto said they were understanding.

“We did a really good job of getting out in the public and explaining what the problems were,” she said. “We told them what the solutions were and why hunting was chosen and we did send a mailing to every neighborhood surrounding the property saying this is when the hunting is going to take place.”The Fairfield County Deer Management Alliance’s website has information on alternatives to deer hunting, such as trapping and relocating and birth control. But Sesto said the alternatives aren’t as effective as controlled deer hunts.

The costs associated with trapping and relocating deer range from $400 to $3,000, according to the website. There’s also the question of where the deer can be brought, Sesto said.

“There’s a 50 percent mortality rate from relocation ... it’s stressful for them,” Sesto said. “Where are you going to hold them? I don’t know any place in Connecticut that is looking forward to having more deer and they can’t leave the state because of chronic wasting disease.”

Chronic wasting disease is a neurological disease that attacks the brain of deer, elk and moose and produces small lesions that eventually result in death, according to DEEP’s website.

Birth control, Sesto said, is a tool only for maintaining the deer population.

“Birth control holds the population steady, in theory. You have to actually get that number down because we have too many deer now,” she said. “You’d have to get that number down before birth control could be a useful tool.”

Although she acknowledged controlled hunts are the most effective way of managing deer populations, Sesto said it has to be done each year — otherwise, the birth rates continue to increase, while the mortality rate drops. The Town Council and mayor have the final say regarding the controlled hunt. If Wallingford decides to have a controlled hunt at Tyler Mill, the state will oversee the program. (203) 317-2235 Twitter: @EricVoRJ

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